I got married at age 20—here’s what I wish I had known

Getting married at age 20 was par for the course just a couple decades ago. But these days, many people tend to get married later in life, so 20 seems pretty young. After all, at 20 you’re in the middle of college, and you can’t even legally drink champagne at your own wedding. I’m happy with my choices, but looking back, there are a few things I wish I had known.

You don’t have to rush it!

When I look back on the trajectory of my relationship pre-marriage, I realize how rushed it was. We just had to date, so we could get engaged, so we could get married. Mind you, this all happened within 1.5 years. While I don’t regret getting married young, often my husband and I reflect and think “what was the hurry?” My advice to anyone considering young marriage is to finish college first and then get married. Would we have still gotten married if we waited until after graduation? Absolutely. But we would have also both been able to live on campus with roommates and be kids for a while longer. I know it can feel like a whirlwind romance needs to end in a whirlwind wedding, but taking the time to enjoy being young and being a college student is time that you will never get back once you’re married.

Everyone changes (and that’s a good thing)

The advice that we received over and over before walking down the aisle was that we should consider waiting until closer to our thirties to get married, as our twenties is a time of constant change. As much as it pains me to admit this, the ominous “they” were right about the change part. Change is inevitable, especially in your twenties. My husband’s dreams, goals, and aspirations have completely changed over the past few years. But the thing that hasn’t changed is who my husband is. He is still kind, caring, and makes me laugh. We treat each other with respect and do our best to always lift one another up. We are still obsessed with coffee, sushi, and our dog. So yes, we have both changed dramatically…for better and for worse. But below all of the shallow transformations, I have always known and been comfortable with who my husband is at the core. As long as that remains, I welcome change.  

Be willing to compromise, but don’t let go of your dreams.

This lesson is something that my husband and I had to learn through trial and error—something we’re still working on everyday. When we got married, we were so young that we were determined to prove to everyone that we could financially support ourselves and be successful. While we succeeded in that goal, we took a step back last year and realized that we had been so focused on being able to pay our bills that we had both sacrificed our goals. Neither of us were purusing our passions, and neither of us were content. It has taken some time, but we are finally moving in the right direction. It is so easy to worry about outward appearances and financial independence as a young couple, but make sure that you aren’t sacrificing your goals and passions in life. Married or not, your individual goals and dreams matter. Marriage does not and should not diminish your unique gifts and talents that you offer to the world.

Hold on to your friends

When you get married young, you quickly realize that you relate less to your friends. For example, most of our friends were still sophomores in college when we got married. They were concerned with things like getting into nursing school, finally turning 21, arranging their dorm room, and everything else that is normal for people in college to be concerned with. My husband and I on the other hand were stressed about bills, finding a co-signer for our apartment lease, combining two families into one big happy family, and figuring out how to live with one another and be “good” spouses.

Needless to say, it became more and more difficult to relate to a lot of our friends. We still had and have so much fun together, but the distance grew. Before we knew it, my husband and I looked at each other and wondered how we were sitting home alone on a Friday night AGAIN watching Netflix. Where did our friends go? We finally reached a point where we realized that just because it’s harder to relate to certain friends, doesn’t give us an excuse to isolate ourselves or stop trying to make new friends. It’s easy to become each other’s best (and only *eek*) friends when you’re young and in a unique situation, but it’s not healthy. When we finally figured this out and I started watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians with my friends instead of my husband, I became a lot happier.

Listen to advice, but make up your own mind

I remember sitting in the lobby of my college dorm room, when a complete stranger came up to me and said “Why would you get married at your age? You are just a baby.”  I was thrown off and uncomfortable, and pretty sure I responded to the questions with an awkward laughter. Little did I know, this type of unsolicited advice would get thrown at me from all directions throughout my entire engagement. Even now, as a 23-year-old, I am still met with uncomfortable reactions when I introduce my husband. If I could go back and talk to my 19-year-old engaged self, I would say to take advice with a grain of salt. There will be a lot of advice thrown your way that you don’t ask for once you decide to get married young. Some of it will be horrible and violating, and some of it will be valid and important. Make sure to really listen to advice, but if you don’t agree, don’t absorb it. Every situation is different, and every individual largely bases their advice on personal experiences. Learning how to listen but not accept outside advice is a skill that will be useful for your entire life, so embrace it.

Don’t compare yourself to other people

It is really easy to fall into the trap of comparison when you get married young. I found myself constantly wanting to be like that older married couple who had their lives together, and I felt embarrassed when we didn’t live up to that. I found myself comparing our lives to to that of my single college friends who didn’t have to check in with anyone and could do anything they wanted. I compared our relationship to the relationship of other young married couples who “seemed” happier and more in love.

After years of comparing, it finally hit me that this was a rabbit hole I didn’t want to continue to fall down. Older married couples have had years to get in sync and work out kinks, so of course we are not there yet. My single friends do have a lot of freedom, but they also don’t have a spouse and best friend that they get to have sleepover with every night. My friends who were also married young are definitely happy (which is a good thing), but I’m sure they have stuff they struggle with just like the rest of us. Comparing gets us nowhere and accomplishes nothing. If I had been as fixated on finding my own happiness as I was comparing and nitpicking, my relationship would have been much healthier much sooner. As I mature, I realize the dangers of comparing and instead choose to focus on bettering my life.

Celebrate! You’re doing great

Young marriage isn’t right for everyone, but it was right for us, and it totally rocks. I have a partner that supports my unique and individual gifts. He wants be to accomplish my dreams, and gives me the space to change and question things as I grow older. We don’t hold one another back in any way.

Marriage is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and by far the most rewarding. No matter how frustrating it is and no matter how bad my quarter-life crisis gets, I still get butterflies when I walk through the door after work and wrap my arms around my husband. That’s something to celebrate, and I plan to celebrate it every day for the rest of my life.Rachel O’Connor-Wiegel began writing in high school and has been actively pursuing ways to turn her passion for writing into a career ever since. She lives in Portland, OR with her husband Troy and her Maltipoo Vox, and like many Portlandians considers hunting for the perfect vanilla latte one of her favorite pastimes.  [Image via ABC]

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